Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Background Vocal Mania

This week in the studio has consisted of a steady diet of inexpensive Mexican food, expensive Straybucks coffee, snappy one-liners, new commercial jingles, and, of course, lots of background vocals ("BGVs", as they are often called). With headphones stirrupped atop my noggin, "Ben, I need more reverb." became a common phrase ushering forth from my mouth as I wailed and whispered my way across six of the eleven songs. Ben has monster ears for the task - this is a compliment - and has no fear of layering vocal pads (the long, sometimes subtle "ooohs" and "aaahs") so rich and thick that they might as well be glue holding the entire thing together. I like this.

Like recording the main vocals, I am equally worn out from the creative aspect of the ornate and sometimes delicate process of singing background vocals. We are making a lot of the parts up as we go along, and it is, like singing the main melody, intense in its acute focus and concentration. Part of my problem is that I don't like to work, but part of it is that my overall energy level is already running near empty what with a two-month, and a two-year old at home. I'm lame for passing the buck, I know. I'm not sure that I possess the mental capacity of late to take a step back to see my life, my everyday life, for the mystery, the fathomless chasm, that it is. Lately, I'm all too eager to crawl into bed by day's end.

If ever I thought I was a great singer, recording background vocals is a firm reminder that I am most certainly not. Walking away from our Wednesday session - our last one for a couple of weeks - I was humbled by my lack of talent in this department. There are notes of a chord that Ben hears that I simply cannot hear, and cannot get my voice to manufacture without much help and guidance, without much ado, and without much consternation and frustration on my part. I departed the scene on Wednesday feeling pretty beat up, not by Ben, but by my own mean, perfectionist self. Hello, acedia. Nice to see you again.

So goes the process of making this, my first album, as a full-fledged parent (Scarce [2006] was recorded and released before our oldest boy, Ellis, was born). For this reason, Chrome carries a grittier weight to it that I have never known in the making of any of the previous albums. Now more than ever, I sense a focused desire for the album to "succeed" (both monetarily and artistically), with a gut feeling that if the thing should fail, then so too goeth my career of holding on, and holding on, and hoping. The economy is a joke, and I'm certainly guilty of paranoia and melodrama - this is only music, after all - but I can only hope that the kind, believing and generous folks who have held up my arms in this process, who have patroned this project with their hard-earned cash, will be proud of me, and will be glad they invested the money they did (we reached the halfway point = $7700!) once it is all said and done. Here's hoping for a June release...

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Milestone

I can't believe how famous this blog has been.

Today we reached (rather, punched) a milestone: I finished singing vocals on the record (The final song was "The Traveling Onion"), and we managed to finish comping it before both our brains exploded. Or melted. Into delirium I nearly caved. It is a mighty good feeling to be done with this major step in the process. Next week we begin background vocals (far more enjoyable), which I'm hoping to enlist the help of my friends, and then to finish the instrumentation. After that, we mix the album. Then, mastering. Then, off to the duplication plant. Like crossing the sea and finally sighting land. The end is near.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

One More Day of Singing (Hallelujah)

Sorry (to the pair of you following this blog) I've missed a couple of days in the journaling of Chrome. Since I last wrote, it's only been more of the same: singing the songs eight or nine times through, then going through line by line, even word by word, weeding out the chaff from the cream of the crop (to marry idioms). The good news, which I am thrilled to report, is that there is one final song to sing ("The Traveling Onion"), then it's off to BGV (background vocal) land, and, from there, more sweet luscious overdubs. Ben and I have plans for: strings, percussion, pedal steel, keys, accordion and french horn. For these, I can't wait. Tomorrow is Friday, as fine a day as any to wrap up vocals.

I sang "Reality Came Crashing Down" this afternoon, and I gave myself a very hard time with its execution. I suppose I expect too much of myself, what with all my grand delusions. But this song, to me, feels like a rare moment at the crux of something sad and bright waiting to walk through the door. Reality doesn't always follow the course of my dreams, as was the case with my voice this afternoon. We'll listen back to today's work first thing tomorrow morning to determine if I was being hyper-critical or if there was any truth to the mental-flogging I gave myself while singing the song. We'll see....

Monday, April 13, 2009

On Being Eric Petered

Yet more singing and vocal comping yesterday and today. Today's song was "Run Down", yesterday's was "I Had To Tell You". As of this moment, we are over halfway done with getting final vocals, and for that I'm very glad.

Andrew Peterson dropped by and helped me and Ben polish off a couple of key lines in the second verse of "I Had To Tell You", which I was thankful for, though hesitant to accept. The reason I say I hesitated is because I am proud, too proud of my individualism, preferring to proclaim that I was the one who started and finished a song in its entirety with no help from another living soul. But I believe their attentive contributions to the overall project will offer stabilization rather than weakness.

In other news, I woke up with the ticklish beginnings of something highly unwelcome this morning, and tonight feels as though it's a full-on cold. Having gulped a dose of Ny-Quil no more than 30 minutes ago, my head is now a floating miasma of brick and misery. There is no air flow through my left nostril. Perfect timing to get sick. We didn't work on the album for two solid months during the peak of winter, and during that time I was as healthy as a goose on Thanksgiving eve. Now that it's time to sing for posterity's sake, I catch a cold. I've been Eric Petered. I have this thing about my name; you see, it can be used as a verb. When something goes wrong at the most inopportune time, you can say you've been "Eric Petered". Tonight, I sleep like an unburdened, inanimate sack of bones.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

More Singing

Yesterday and today were two more days of singing and comping vocals. Nothing fancy here, just the repetitive, mentally wearing work of picking out the best lines and words from each take, and magically melding them together (comping) into one final vocal track. That, after singing and re-singing a song multiple times (eight passes, on average). This is nothing like digging ditches (a job I've held before), but it will leave you mentally fried.

It was a brief day at the studio, but we're trying to take advantage of every free moment Ben has to spare in order to get this thing closer to wrapped up. Today we comped the vocals for "I Will Go With You". Yesterday I sang and we comped the vocals for "You Don't Have the Strength". Next week, we should have three straight, uninterrupted days of singing, which makes me tired to even think about, but hopefully I won't get sick between now and then (PLEASE no!), so we can knock out another healthy chunk of the vocals, which would put us on the path to the final light. Singing vocals is the scariest part for me. Sucky vocals equals a sucky album, no matter how cool the artwork, no matter how original the music, no matter how masterful the songwriting. I cringe whenever I listen to some of my early solo stuff because the vocals weren't given the attention to detail that they so desperately needed. Some of my earlier recorded material could have been so much better had I known to not settle. Live and learn.

Lastly, I hate forwarded emails, but my mom sent me this and I thought it was funny, even if it is fabricated.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Singing! At Long Last

I officially began singing keeper vocals this abnormally cold April morning at The Bee Hive. With Ben dialing in the vocal sound and giving me that sweet, tonic reverb inside my headphones, I sang through "Chrome" (or "Krome" as Ben likes to spell it with his direct sort of whimsy) six or seven times. I could feel my voice warming and settling down with each new pass, and by the final take, felt that we had much goodness to work with.

We then comped the vocal, a process by which the engineer/producer goes through each and every line (sometimes isolating individual words) with a fine-toothed comb (i.e., ears) and picks out the best, most pleasing versions. It might be a certain whisper or the way a vowel is uttered, or it might be the plaintive delivery confirming a sad mood. The producer/engineer then cuts and pastes each of these selected takes into one mothership of a vocal. Purists might argue that this process is fraudulent stating that it's not an actual take, but an amalgamation of several takes. I figure, it's still my voice singing, not someone else's (reference Milli Vanilli), and I'm a fraud already. Nobody's perfect.

I really, really like this song. The more I listen to the roughs Ben sent me, the more the song resonates with me, especially in these dark days of uncertainty and fear. I can't help but feel this song is at the center of what I'm trying to state with this album.

Chrome for my heart
Chrome for my skin
Chrome becomes a part of me like God inside of men
I want chrome